[funsec] Putting our lives in the hands of buggy software

Richard M. Smith rms at computerbytesman.com
Tue Mar 6 09:31:39 CST 2007

Failure in new computer diverts air traffic 

By New York Times Staff

Story last modified Tue Mar 06 06:21:25 PST 2007 


WASHINGTON, D.C.--A failure in one of the Federal Aviation Administration's
newest air traffic computers early Monday morning forced controllers to hold
airliners on the ground, send others on detours over hundreds of miles and
put two into holding patterns over the ocean near Bermuda, an unusual
procedure for intercontinental flights. 

The system handles airplanes over water, beyond the range of land-based
radar. It receives position reports relayed by satellite, and is supposed to
allow planes to fly closer to one another while still assuring that they are
safe from collision. 

At about 1 a.m. Monday
> the system began to indicate that numerous airplanes were on paths that
would bring them too close. Controllers say that the system occasionally
generates such messages erroneously, and that this can be corrected by
deleting a plane from the system and re-entering it. That procedure,
however, takes three to five minutes and is hard to do for more than one
plane at a time. 

According to air traffic controllers, two airlines had a plane bound for
Europe put in a holding pattern for 15 minutes. Laura J. Brown, a
spokeswoman for the FAA, said 27 flights were diverted to Canadian airspace
and 6 to Caribbean airspace and 10 were held on the ground.

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